Why Detroit Lions' Dan Campbell fined Tracy Walker for not getting an interception

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Tracy Walker ran up to Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell before practice Friday and said he was going to intercept a pass in practice and bring it to him as a gift.

When Walker didn’t get his pick, Campbell had a surprise waiting for him at that night’s team meeting.

“He goes, ‘I promise. It’s coming,’” Campbell said Saturday. “Well, he didn’t get one, so I fined him. Last night in the team meeting I said, ‘I’m, fining you for that, $50, but I’m going to pay the fine.’ So I paid the fine, but he owes me two.”

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Lions free safety Tracy Walker celebrates a defensive stop against the Broncos during the first half on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Denver.
Lions free safety Tracy Walker celebrates a defensive stop against the Broncos during the first half on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Denver.

Walker has had a strong start to training camp and appears entrenched at one starting safety spot with six weeks until the regular season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

After a rough 2020 season that saw him in and out of the starting lineup, Walker has taken a bigger leadership role in the secondary, something he said is directly attributable to his new coaches’ belief in him as a player and person.

“I feel great,” Walker said. “I’m allowed to be a leader, I’m allowed to speak, voice my opinions and like I said, whether I’m right or wrong I’m always going to be able to speak my mind. I think that’s the best thing about it and I get to have fun. I feel like, it’s an understatement when everybody says it but, man, that’s the main thing about football. This is a child’s game and we’re blessed to be able to come out here and play this game the way we do. I love being out and having fun, enjoying it and competing.”

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Campbell said leadership is one of the core traits he looks for in safeties, and in that regard has been pleased with Walker’s development.

“He’s been outstanding,” Campbell said. “You can just see the secondary beginning to grow. You can. They’re starting to figure this thing out, they’re starting to mesh.”

Chicken hearts

John Penisini could not lift his right arm above his shoulder for the final three months of last season, an ailment that made life incredibly difficult for a run-stuffing nose tackle.

“When I’m at home (last year), I can’t push off the bed, or I can’t lift, I can’t do upper body,” Penisini said. “I didn’t do upper body for like a while. Now, I can do whatever I want. Push off the bed, do push-ups.”

Detroit Lions nose tackle John Penisini walks off the field after  training camp at the Allen Park facility Wednesday, July 28, 2021.
Detroit Lions nose tackle John Penisini walks off the field after training camp at the Allen Park facility Wednesday, July 28, 2021.

Penisini underwent surgery to remove calcium deposits from his shoulder after the season, masses that he said looked like chicken hearts when they were removed.

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A sixth-round pick out of Utah last April, Penisini spent the majority of this spring away from the team, tending to a family issue. He returned this summer refocused on football and ready to compete with third-round pick Alim McNeill for the starting nose job.

McNeill has taken the majority of first-team reps at the position through the first four days of training camp, but Penisini is coming off a strong rookie season in which he started 12 games and made 35 tackles.

Campbell, who nicknamed the 335-pound Penisini “Twinkle Toes,” said the two big bodies could be complementary pieces on the defensive line this fall.

“They certainly are similar, but I think McNeil potentially has more rush ability at this point,” Campbell said. “You really feel like John’s more of a first-, second-down nose. Goal line, short-yardage, base, and you feel pretty good about that. Whereas we feel like Mac’s going to be able to those things, but he has flexibility to potentially to play the three technique if need be in four-down (alignments), or even more out to defensive end in base.”

Penisini said improving his pass rush skills and better recognizing offensive fronts was a focal point of his offseason. And now that the softball-sized knots in his shoulder are gone, he’s ready to contribute any way possible.

“I’m ready for the season,” he said. “We’re just working to get ready for the season, so we’ll be ready.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Why Detroit Lions fined Tracy Walker for not getting an interception

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